FOXBORO, Mass. — Walk up to a player in the New England Patriots’ locker room as a member of the media and ask if he has a minute to talk and an immediate front typically will be put up, intentional or not.
Say you’re asking about Brandon Bolden, however, and a hesitant look will turn into a smile, even on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s face.
“I love Brandon,” Brady began Wednesday.
He’s not alone. There’s just a calming presence about the Patriots’ fifth-string running back among his teammates. Bolden, who’s in his sixth year on the team, was a surprise cut when the Patriots had to trim their roster from 90 players to 53 in September, but he only was gone two days as part of a procedural matter.
He returned for the Patriots’ first practice of the season and has played in all eight games as a core special-teamer, though he has yet to take the field on offense. Head coach Bill Belichick wasn’t about to let him go. One reason Belichick admires him so much, though it sounds cliche, is Bolden’s willingness to be the consummate Patriot and put the team above himself. Bolden had 423 yards from scrimmage in his second NFL season and looked primed for a long career as at least a rotational running back. He has just 19 yards from scrimmage over his last 22 games and still shows up every day with an infectious smile on his face and music blasting from a large boombox in his locker.
Belichick on Wednesday went out of his way to call Bolden a leader.
“Brandon, like a lot of players on our team, understands his role, knows what it is and works very hard to excel at it and does excel at it,” Belichick said.
“The things that he knows he’s going to do that are his important roles that we know are going to be there for this game or for each game, he prepares hard for those, he does a good job of them, he’s very dependable, and if we need him to do more, then he would do his best to give us more. And that’s, I think, the most leadership any player can give you is to do his job and to be ready to do whatever else you need him to do, and that’s on a daily basis, not just on Sunday.”
Bolden has rewarded the Patriots with the second most special teams tackles on the team this season. Who has bettered him by one tackle? Just his best friend, safety Nate Ebner.
Bolden is so well liked by his teammates, in part, for his ability to keep things light in tense moments. Players on opposing teams might think it’s strange when Ebner and Bolden, both of whom came into the league with the Patriots in 2012, will share a glance and start laughing after a special-teams play, but that’s just B.
“Me and B, we think alike,” Ebner said.
It’s not just a best buds thing.
“There’s been several times when something’s happened on the field, and I’m in the heat, and I’m all fired up, and he’ll just come give me a smile or a laugh, and it kind of just brings me back down to earth,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “It’s happened so many times.”
Another reason Bolden is the man in the Patriots’ locker room? “He knows everything. He literally knows everything,” fellow running back Dion Lewis explained.
“He memorized everything,” Lewis said. “Like, if we change the name of a play, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, that used to be this,’ so he’s real smart.”
How else is Bolden described by his teammates? With countless complimentary adjectives ranging from “fun to be around” to “great dude” to “game-changer” and “always smiling.” Oh, and “somebody you kick it with that’s fun to play around with that at the same time he cares about you and your family.”
“We’ve been together for a long time, and he’s just a great teammate,” Brady said. “He brings great positive enthusiasm. He’s got a great spirit about him, so dependable, consistent. He has a lot of trust in his teammates. We have a lot of trust in him. He’s just a great player.”
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images